Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dow Jones Reporter Gets In Singapore Brew-Ha-Ha

Instead of a Tip, Andrew Bevan Jones Gives Cabbie A Broken Nose

Journalists can appear on the wrong end of the police blotter too.
Given the law-and-order ways of Singapore, looks like Andrew Bevan Jones of Dow Jones (no relation), got off easy for punching a cab driver and breaking his nose when the cabbie couldn't make change.
Instead of up to a year in jail, he was fined the equivalent of $746 U.S.
After all, Jones' lawyer suggested, it was the cabbie's fault anyway for not having change on him even though he'd been working all night.
The lawyer left out any mention of the four beers Jones owned up to drinking before he got in the cab.

Thai Toilets Not Tidy; Neither Is English Language for Bangkok Paper

Is Anyone Reading This Stuff Before It Goes Out

Having spent time in Thailand, I know the top English-language newspapers, The Nation and the Bangkok Post, actually do a decent job and ostensibly know the language they are writing in.
Yet, this item from The Nation, about how only 20 percent of public toilets are up to snuff -- not exactly news, mind you -- are up to snuff read as if they were using some lousy translation software:

The survey had been conducted in 2007 to ask member of public about their pleasure to use public toilet. The survey found 40 percent of people are pleasure to use public toilet

Just hope they weren't referring to people who pleasure themselves in public toilets. Now that's a survey.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How To Say "You're Screwed" In A Nice Way

PR Department's Final Task As Eos Folds ts Wings and Grounds Its Well-Heeled Clientele: Deliver Bad News With A Velvet Glove
It's no great shock nowadays when airlines go belly up. Skybus, Aloha Airlines, MAXjet, and ATA are among those whose fleets have been parked in the desert within the last year.
Joining that dubious list is Eos, the all-business-class airline that flew between JFK and Stansted Airport in London for less than what other carriers charged for a comparatively more-mundane experience up front.
With only 48 seats on a Boeing 757 built for 220, quick airport check-ins and access to Emirates Airline's New York lounge, Eos had gotten good reviews for pampering a lucrative market and had announced expansion plans for service to Paris and Dubai.
Along came $120-a-barrel oil to change all that amid brutal competition to service what turned out to be a fairly limited clientele. That was enough to ticket Eos to oblivion. Still, just like its service, it attempted to deliver the bad news with a velvet glove.

Talk about a tough assignment for a PR guy. But give Eos credit for trying.

The relationship we have is very special. You have shown a true appreciation for the commitment and service that defines Eos Class and it has always been our pleasure to deliver Eos Class service to you. The sense of camaraderie and level of engagement we've developed together transcends the traditional airline space.
Our unique relationship makes it all the more difficult to share with you the news that Eos has filed for bankruptcy ... This announcement is particularly regrettable since we have achieved so much, including having a term sheet in hand for additional financing. Clearly, even in today's challenging economic and credit environment, investors believe in Eos. Unfortunately, some issues arose that prevented the parties from moving forward.

Some issues indeed.

By the way, Eos told passengers, you're basically on your own if you had a ticket for travel from today onward. It only provided a link to airlines that "may be able to accommodate you," which turn out to be only British Airways (good luck) and the remaining all-business-class airline on the JFK-London route, Silverjet.
Of course, if you were already in a position to pay as much as nine grand for an airline ticket, you shouldn't be too hot and bothered about having to rebook on another airline where chances are you won't have a "unique relationship."

That Big Sucking Sound Is Coming From The Publisher's Office

More Ugliness Courtesy of the ABC's FAS-FAX Totals

Let's get the good news out of the way for those of you who prefer to operate in glass-is-half-full mode.
The latest numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations are out for the last six months and, yes, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal registered microscopic gains averaging .31 percent. Indeed, not too shabby nowadays. Even The Sun in Baltimore upped its total by 200 copies for a 0.1 percent increase.
And Editor & Publisher does make note of other winners, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and shock of shocks, the eviscerated-but-still-breathing San Jose Mercury-News.
Sadly, they are anomalies. The real story is the same story. To wit: The Los Angeles Times, off another 5.13 percent, with daily circulation down to just 774,000. The New York tabloids continue to shed numbers -- the Post more so than the Daily News -- while their suburban counterparts, Newsday is off 4.6 percent and The Star-Ledger is down 7.3 percent.
The numbers for the Dallas Morning News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution look worse than they are (down 10.6 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively), as both outlets made a concerted effort to rein in circulation outside their core metro areas. Nonetheless, they are among 23 of the top 25 papers that registered declines.
These numbers will no doubt launch another furious search for answers for how to stanch the bleeding, or at least slow it to a trickle.
Unfortunately, the only answer most publishers have come up with is to reduce staff and slash away at what's inside the papers. The irony that in so doing, you're giving people even less of a reason to read has long been consigned to the Dumpster.
The idea of adding reporters, reimagining sections and creating a product that's indispensable and provides information that can't be obtained anywhere else, has apparently been deemed too radical.
They shoot newspapers, don't they?

First Take on "The Takeaway"

Debut of The Anti-Morning Edition Sounds Like It's Still A Work In Progress

I didn't think I needed another public-radio news show to listen to when I woke up. And after hearing the debut of "The Takeaway" this morning, I'm pretty sure I still don't.

But that doesn't mean I won't listen again.

In case you didn't get to hear it -- and that would be in most of the country -- "The Takeaway" is meant to serve as a counterweight to "Morning Edition," ostensibly aimed at a younger demographic. It's a news show for folks who ordinarily listen to news on the radio. Or so the show's creators want you to believe.

WNYC in New York is producing the program in conjunction with Public Radio International. The BBC, The New York Times and WGBH in Boston will also be contributing to "The Takeaway."
"There are many people who are curious and intelligent and looking for a news show, but many of them are turned off by the style of public radio," WNYC president and CEO Laura Walker told The Wall Street Journal.
What Walker doesn't say is exactly what void "Morning Edition" has left those curious and intelligent types in. Are they turned off by in-depth reporting from around the world? Cogent, informed interviews? The heart-rending tales heard every Friday from Story Corps?
Can see how all of that would be a real turn-off.

"The Takeaway" offers up journalistic bona fides with broadcasting vets John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji (above), and attempts a more-conversational style to reflect on the news of the day rather than rely on reports in the field.
All well and good, except when the conversation goes on for a bit too long, as it did with oil expert Lisa Margonelli. And the interview with Zimbabwe's U.N. ambassador was a waste of time even before it started. No one associated with "The Takeaway" should have presumed this clown was going do anything less than lip-sync Robert Mugabe's warped perspective. And he didn't disappoint.
While we're at it, WNYC could also do away with the electronica it beds underneath the local news update at the bottom of the hour. Anyone who tries too hard to be hip just isn't.
Still, "The Takeaway" deserves a chance to succeed, even if it means you must chase after the second live hour of "Morning Edition" on the AM dial from 6-7, when "The Takeaway" is on WNYC-FM (the uninterrupted "Morning Edition feed is heard on FM from 7-9).
For one, Hockenberry has built up a strong reservoir of goodwill from public radio listeners over the years, none of which he squandered during his TV stints. He's capable of righting this ship if it's ever in danger of listing.
Second, given the organizations behind "The Takeaway," there is ample talent behind the scenes to put a little more polish on the finished product. At times what went on the air felt a little raw. One of the show's conceits is it'll let listeners email and comment on what stories they want to hear next or have talked about in greater depth.
Maybe they should hold off on that for now. News on the fly doesn't work when you're still learning how to walk. For now, "The Takeaway" can aspire to be bold, but take baby steps. Slow but steady now means you won't crash and burn later.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Behind The Swagger and Foul Mouth, Sam Zell Coming Up Empty Answering the Hard Questions

Track Records Don't Mean Squat to Scared Banks

Here's how the numbers have crunched for Sam Zell so far: He buys Tribune with very little of his own money, but takes on $8.4 billion in debt.
OK, debt's a part of doing business as anything else. No biggie. Except when it is. And is is the rapid implosion of the newspaper business around the time Zell, flush from the billions he made as a real-estate mogul, took charge in 2007
All of a sudden the jeans-wearing, profanity-spewing, bearded tycoon has reason to sweat. There's the matter of a $650 million debt payment this year, to go with another $750 million the banks are anxious to get in 2009.
So, it's no surprise that Zell is selling Newsday, putatively to Rupert Murdoch, and wants to get rid of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.
Let's say all that happened, and all is right with Tribune's debt load through next year.
Then what?
Neither Zell nor anyone else has a clue, or they're not letting on. Either that, or providing the right answer is too horrible to contemplate, especially if print revenues keep plunging and profits at the 23 Tribune TV stations go soft, especially post-election.
If there's "significant erosion" now, as Zell conceded in an April 17 conference call, nothing in the economy suggests an about-face anytime soon, if ever.
Zell may feel hot under the collar now, but that'll be nothing compared to the heat generated by the fire sale that will ensue if Tribune defaults on its bonds and is forced into bankruptcy.
Zell told the A.P. last year "I probably am not as pessimistic about the future of the newspaper business as others might be."
Forgive Zell if he got in bed with the pessimists this year and doesn't bother crawling out.

How Marcus Brachuli and Newsday Are Linked

Forget All the Antitrust Stuff -- Murdoch and Long Island Are a Bad Mix

Rupert Murdoch is already treating Newsday as his, even though he may have to jump through a few hoops with the FCC and the Justice Department before the deal is sealed.
Sure, Mort Zuckerman is preparing a bid, and Cablevision and the not-very-deep pockets of New York Observer scion Jared Kushner may wade into the pool should Murdoch start drowning in the regulatory red tape of his own making.
But for the moment, let's assume Murdoch can convince regulators that the sickly newspaper industry can stomach Newsday and The New York Post having the same owner. The bigger question is, can Newsday's readers? The answer, for anyone who's been witness to events in recent days, should be an unequivocal no.
Exhibit A is Marcus Brachuli's ouster at The Wall Street Journal. Yeah, yeah, he resigned and I'm sure he'll get a very nice package for walking the plank.
Fact is, he was not Murdoch's guy and never was going to be. Life was already gloom and doom for Brachuli, who was fast being put in a position of implementing marching orders from Murdoch and Journal publisher Robert Thomson, rather than imposing his own vision, as Journal managing editors normally would.
Murdoch was able to get his way and, in turn, get around the limitations on his ability to fire the managing editor per the deal he made with the Bancroft family to buy the paper. We won't fire you, we'll just make you bloody miserable as soon as you walk in the door. They did, and now Brachuli's a "consultant" for News Corp.
What does this have to do with Newsday? Plenty. True, the deal is officially a joint venture so Tribune can avoid getting whomped with a hefty capital-gains bill. But everyone knows who'll be wearing the pants at the end of the day, and it won't be Sam Zell.
Murdoch has said both papers would be operated separately. As with anything, that's open to wide interpretation when Murdoch's involved. You could still have separate newspapers, but a ukase could be handed down that says both really don't really each need theatre critics, beat writers for the local sports teams or travel editors.
The result will be a newspaper that for years has been a shell of its former self being desiccated even further. It's been a long time since Newsday has been a consistently compelling read, and Murdoch's imprint could send even more readers scurrying elsewhere.
After all, the Post is reportedly losing $50 million a year. Murdoch covets Newsday's profits and captive audience on Long Island to help erase that deficit. Shedding personnel wouldn't hurt either.
Bear witness to the Post, which has never exactly been top heavy with reporters to begin with. The same can be said in recent years about Newsday, whose editorial ranks have been thinned by buyouts and the closing of its foreign bureaus, while its outposts in Washington and Albany have also been trimmed.
Murdoch has never been confused with a savior. That's why he's a billionaire. And it's also why his purchase would be bad news for Newsday, its employees and, most of all, its loyal readers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

N.Y.Times Star Reporters Head for the Door...

But It May Not Be Enough. Why Mood is Black at the Gray Lady

Radar yesterday had more of the names who are taking buyouts from The New York Times. They include mainstays like Murray Chass, Jane Gross and Lawrence K. Altman, along with Philip Shenon and Karen Arenson.
They'll join such brand names as Linda Greenhouse, John Noble Wilford and David Cay Johnston.
But now we learned geting those veterans' above-scale salaries off the book won't be enough. The Times was looking to trim the newsroom head count by 100. But apparently enough editors and reporters think enough of the paper to want to stick around. Or maybe they don't think enough of the buyout offer.
Either way, the number who signed up was less than 100, which will mean a "limited number" of layoffs.
After the dust settles, it'll be instructive to see which beats are filled and which will lie fallow. Of course, someone will take Greenhouse's spot at the Supreme Court, but it's doubtful Chass will get replaced as the Times' baseball eminent grise.
Either way, it means even the Times will now be doing less with fewer. The Times has always propped itself on its formidable reputation. But with fewer bodies putting out the daily report, this may be the time when signs of strain are finally beginning to show.

MSNBC Take-Out On Unfriendly Skies Gives Back-Handed Props to CNN

Report on Pilots Flying Low on Fuel -- by Airlines' Alleged Design Scary Stuff

After spending a good chunk of the morning flying, it was grim enough reading today about how United wants to bump its domestic fuel surcharge another $20, which would mean that $70 of every round-trip ticket would go toward underwriting the airline's bill at the pump. So far, other airlines haven't matched it, but you know they'll try.
But the scariest airline item found online today was MSNBC's excellent piece on claims too many pilots are making that they are being pressured into flying with low fuel.
The allegations are at once fascinating and disturbing. But also telling was how the piece ended, quoting from a report by an airline first officer:

“I am absolutely confident that if this is the way this company is going to play the game we will soon be on ‘CNN,’ and not in a good way.”

Let's hope MSNBC would also be covering that story. More importantly, let's hope it never has to.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Food, Glorious Food Propping Up Teetering Magazine Business

Publishers Starving for Results Get Them Served On A Platter By Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart

No surprise: magazine advertising is off. Way off for some in the first quarter, reports Keith Kelly in the New York Post.
But the one bright spot was food titles, especially populist books like Everyday With Rachel Ray and Everyday Food, put out by Martha Stewart.
Both titles focus on unfussy recipes that are easy to make, and let people enjoy a home-cooked meal without slaving all day in the kitchen. There's also an emphasis on value, especially appealing in light of one of the Post's most-emailed stories right next to the Kelly article: Food Prices Rising At Fastest Rate in 17 Years.
But the news is grim elsewhere in magazine land. Folio has the numbers, and they are uglier than Betty for some venerable titles, including Scientific American (off 45.5 percent in ad pages); U.S. News & World Report (down 37.5 percent); and Rolling Stone (off 32.6 percent).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chicken Little Lays An Egg in Newsrooms

The Sky Is Falling on Most Media Profit Margins; Still Reporting and Editing Ranks Get Thinner and Reasons to Watch and Read Become Fewer

Even if you're not a regular Romenesko reader, you know there's been a contagion of cutbacks at newspapers, TV and radio stations in both content and personnel.
Ostensibly, all of this is being done to slow a decline in revenues and audience. At the same time, you're led to believe that declines equate to red ink, thereby making all this bloodletting more justifiable. Not so, in most cases.
The top newspaper analyst, John Morton, points out in American Journalism Review that publicly traded newspaper companies still have an average profit margin of 17 percent. True, that's less than they used to have when their media hegemony could bring home a lot more bacon, but most corporations in other sectors can only lust after such returns.
The situation is even better at local TV stations, which are also not as fat and happy. But that means profit margins are merely in the 20s. Sob. Still, that's enough for the CBS-owned stations, where dozens of high-profile anchors and reporters have been let go to save money. Penny-pinching is also evident behind-the-scenes, reports The Los Angeles Times.

In a report released in July, the Writers Guild of America, East, reported that CBS and ABC news writers said recent workforce cutbacks had led to fewer investigative stories, less fact checking and an increased use of promotional video news releases at their news outlets.

The bottom line, says Morton, is get used to a new bottom line.
You can still make money, just not as much as you're used to. You won't get back to where you were, and you shouldn't even try by cutting staff and content, thereby reducing an already-shrunken value proposition to watch and read.
It's a point I've harped on repeatedly while following the travails of the likes of Dean Singleton, Brian Tierney and Sam Zell.
No doubt, debt service is a bitch for all of them, but so is the prospect of a rotting husk where a newspaper once stood.

Demise of TV Business Prompts Philips CEO To Make Up Words

The New York Times reported this morning that Philips would no longer make TVs to sell in the U.S. or Canada, but would instead license its name to a cut-rate Japanese manufacturer.
That prompted a quote from Paul Zeven, Philips' North American CEO that the move "allows the Philips brand to be very evident in the North American market and de-risks the profit potential."
First, he's redundant by saying "very evident." Then he concocts "de-risks," because as a CEO he's mandated to speak in corporate gobbledeygook and not take the trouble to use a few extra words to say what he really meant in proper English.
Then again, there's nothing that says a reporter, in this case Eric Taub, is compelled to quote him verbatim spouting nonsense. Taub could have paraphrased that more artfully with little or no effort. Or, since he was interviewing Zeven and not quoting from a press release, Taub could simply have asked him what he really meant.
Imagine that. Then he could have de-risked the possibility that we wouldn't have understood the story better.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

For Its Editorial Cartooning Prize, Pulitzer Board Gets It Right (Wing)

The most remarkable part about Michael Ramirez, the editorial cartoonist for Investors Business Daily winning the Pulitzer Prize was not that he won -- he had already done that once before in 1994 while at the Memphis Commercial-Appeal -- was finding out that IBD actually has an editorial cartoonist.
That's actually just his homebase -- Ramirez is syndicated by Copley News Service in 450 newspapers who lop up his rather right-wing perspective. You may not agree with his world view, but they do make you stop and look, not to mention react.
Of course, that's what an editorial cartoon is supposed to do, but doing it consistently and fearlessly is another matter.
Ramirez is hardly an equal opportunity offender, a relief, no doubt, to the denizens of the White House. But even blue-state types will read him. They'll get angry, but they'll read him.
It's not easy nowadays trying to get people to swallow the GOP's glass-is-half-full dogma. Most of the time, Ramirez succeeds with an indelible mix of sugar and bile.

Jingoism Doesn't Mix Well With Vodka

This Ad Absolutly Had A Hard Time Crossing The Border
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And maybe it still is.
In an ad for the Mexican market, Absolut showed a pre-1848 map of the U.S., which would put California and Arizona, among other states, firmly on the Mexican side of the ledger.
Apparently, some folks north of the border got the impression that Absolut was fomenting rebellion and urging Mexicans to take up arms and get back what's rightfully theirs. Maybe they were drunk on the competition's vodka. Whatever.
The ensuing reaction forced Absolut to play defense, at least publicly. "In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues," the company said on its Web site.
Still, Absolut has pulled the ad.
Which may have been the intention all along. You could view this as damage control for some bad PR. But I'll give Absolut a lot more credit than that. Their marketing savvy has been proven time and again. The company knew the ad would eventually be seen here, and cause a shitstorm in the process.
Sure, you'll get the Glenn Beck acolytes scurrying to the attic to raise their flag and call for boycotts, pour their Absolut down the drain and all of that other jingoistic nonsense. But those with at least a jigger of common sense, in other words, the likely buyers of Absolut, can see the ad for what it is, a continuation of a deft ad strategy that has fired on all cylinders for the better part of two decades.
Absolut may have pretty much invented the concept of premium vodka, but it long ago lost its cachet as the edgiest brand out there. It needs to clamor for attention. This might not be the way they teach you how to get it in PR school, but so what?
It worked.

Ignorance Hardly Bliss: Internet's Not The Media's Salvation On College Campuses

That Students Wall Themselves Off From The News Continuation of a Sad Story That Has Media Crying More Than Crocodile Tears

Caught up yesterday to a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education by former Washington Post scribe Ted Gup, who told of how his students are a collective bunch of dullards when it comes to knowing about the world around them.

Despite their BlackBerrys, cellphones, and Wi-Fi, they are, in their own way, as isolated as the remote tribes of New Guinea. They disprove the notion that technology fosters engagement, that connectivity and community are synonymous. I despair to think that this is the generation brought up under the banner of "No Child Left Behind." What I see is the specter of an entire generation left behind and left out.

Gup mentions how most students in some of his classes couldn't cite what country Kabul was in, name the U.S. Secretary of Defense, or define rendition. Despite that, Gup labels his students collectively as "earnest, readily educable, and, when informed, impassioned."
Not sure when that would actually be applicable, under the circumstances, but still I know how he feels.
When I was a graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University in 1983, I was a teaching assistant for a mandatory introductory course on communications. Part of my job was to administer a current-events quiz two or three times a semester.
Like Gup, my test was the equivalent of a dumbed-down version of the news of the day. But for many supposed future communications pros, not dumb enough.
To wit: During a week when King Hussein was in Washington meeting with President Reagan, I asked what country did he rule over. Only about 10 percent of the 70 students in the class answered correctly, with several telling me he was the king of Israel.
On another quiz, I asked who was the vice president. Several informed me it was Jimmy Carter.
Yet somehow they got into college, not to mention a high school diploma.
So, this might be news to Gup, but his cautionary tale is one that has had intractable roots in the hallways of academia far too long.
For those of us like myself who grew up in homes that received at least two newspapers daily, the thought of not knowing such basic facts is not only anathema but utterly incomprehensible.
No more, as Gup demonstrates. His students not only don't read newspapers, but they grew up with parents who didn't subscribe to one either.
Which may be the biggest reason why newspapers are in such dire straits today. Forget the Internet. Today's generation isn't just migrating away from print media, they're turning away from any meaningful engagement in the world around them and no one is encouraging them to do otherwise.
It's a sad story, and one that needs to be rewritten in a hurry.